These tin soldiers are the violent, cowardly, bullying
products of a dying empire, the death dreams of a
sybaritic system breathing its last. They are America's
By Richard Eskow
The roar of the .45
shook the room. Charlotte staggered back a step. Her
eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbelieving
witness to truth ..."How could you?" she gasped.
I had only a moment
before talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
"It was easy," I said.
—"I, the Jury,"
"It was easy." That's what an uncle of mine said,
too, when he talked about his experience of hand-to-hand
combat in World War II. He thought that anyone who had
killed someone, even in the line of duty, should be
isolated on an island somewhere. Once you find out how
easy it is to kill, he said, you should be kept away
from the rest of humanity. And when you do it in close
quarters, with a knife or garrote, when you can feel
your enemy's last breath on your skin … he didn't finish
My uncle's idea was extreme, of course, and no doubt
reflected an inner struggle, since he was more sensitive
than most. But when you've been involved in more than
one act of uniformed violence, it certainly warrants
some sort of intervention. Derek Chauvin stayed on the
street, a gun at his hip and the power of the state at
his back, until he slipped up and killed on camera.
And there's the bigger question: What do we do with a
nation that keeps killing?
Why do we tolerate the killing? Perhaps it's because,
in white American culture, we've been programmed for it.
Many in my uncle's generation came back from war
flush with the feel of the kill. Spillane's novel was
written in those postwar years, its revenge fantasy
built around the murder of the hero's best friend, "the
guy that shared the same mud bed with me through two
years of warfare in the stinking slime of the jungle."
Once discovered, the woman takes off her clothes and
tries to seduce him, but he shoots her in an explicitly
para-sexual way instead.
The same conflation of sex and murder informed other
postwar noir novels, like Jim Thompson's The Killer
Inside Me, a tale so extreme I've could never
finish it. It was in the magazines I saw in a Rust Belt
barbershop as a little boy, like True Detective
("No Mercy For Mary! Pretty Chicago Brunette Loses Her
Fight Against a Killer") and Police Gazette
("Little Girl With An Arrow Through Her Heart"). It was
there in all the movies and TV shows that sacralized
violent revenge as the highest, and most pleasurable,
expression of the self.
The police ranks, it's now clear, are filled with
people who lust for this sexualized violence. So is the
right, from the White House down.
It's easy for self-described liberals to
disdain such things. Then we watch the same
movies, cheer the same acts of vengeance.
Writer and entertainer Spike Milligan
described his feelings as a victorious
soldier at the end of World War II:
"Here was I, anti-war, but like the rest of us
feeling the exhilaration of the barbarian."
How many of us are publicly anti-war, but secretly
yearn for "the exhilaration of the barbarian"—for the
thrill of victory, or, more precisely, the joy of seeing
our enemies broken and humiliated? It doesn't have to be
physical; a political defeat or public shaming will feed
the yearning. Republicans are masters of this vengeful
individualism, but there's plenty of it on MSNBC,
and in social media cancellations.
We're all Spillane's children.
Why else would we do nothing, or too little, while
our country props up brutal dictatorships and fights
endless wars, as people of color die at home—of bullet
wounds, of unequal healthcare, of poverty in all its
death-dealing incarnations? Why else would we watch
passively as our police forces are turned into occupying
armies infiltrated by
We've sent our children into alien lands, over and
over, to kill and terrorize. Now, the alien land is our
We've seen the kind and progressive sheriffs and
deputies taking the knee, or marching with protestors.
It's gratifying. But they're the exceptions—and they're
not exceptional enough to stop the killing. Humane
policing is useful to the system, if it's administered
in homeopathic dosages.
Look at those videos again: We like 'em mean, and we
like 'em dumb.
Why else does our system produce walking hand
grenades like Derek Chauvin, then protect them as if
they were Fabergé eggs? What else explains a liberal
mayor's waffling when his own police officers ram
demonstrators with an SUV? What else explains the
martial movement of
a tank and soldiers down a residential Minneapolis
street, and the "light 'em up" order to fire a
projectile at people on their own front porch?
"Light 'em up."
That's a line from the video that Chelsea Manning
released, and Julian Assange published—spoken as
Americans in Iraq killed civilians, including two
journalists, from a helicopter. Manning and Assange
revealed the truth, and we're torturing them for it.
Now, military helicopters hover over US demonstrators
while cops target journalists on the ground.
"Light 'em up."
A line that reveals the skull beneath the face.
These tin soldiers are the violent, cowardly,
bullying products of a dying empire, the death dreams of
a sybaritic system breathing its last. They are
Don't believe it? As cities slash their budgets in
the wake of Covid-19, gutting social services and
police departments aren't being cut at all. That's
the act of an empire protecting its elites from the
Why do we let this happen? Some of us get off on the
violence, Mickey Spillane style. Others just don't care
enough to lay their bodies on the line to stop it. That
isn't any better, is it?
Maybe this time will be different. Maybe we'll purge
our national heart of its love for state violence. But
that would mean admitting the problem isn't "rogue
cops," but rogue hearts. It would mean admitting that
our history is a thin red line that runs from the
slaughter of the Native Americans, through the torture
of the enslaved, all the way to the deaths of despair
and the killing of George Floyd.
It would mean feeling what we don't want to feel: the
suffering of others.
The masked and booted troopers on our streets are
showing us our secret faces, our innermost selves. Maybe
this time we'll change. Maybe we'll demand the death of
empire and the birth of community. One thing's for sure:
If we don't, this world will get even darker and uglier.
And someday, when our children ask us why we failed
them, we'll have to tell them the truth:
It was easy.
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